You will remember that last week, Mark Wildyr guest posted the first part of his short story, “I’m My Own Man.” This week we finish up the story.
I slept fitfully in my car that night and woke the next morning feeling dirty and heavy-lidded and not thinking too straight. I crawled out of the car to stretch out the kinks and wash up in the men’s room at the town park. Thus far, I’d spent half my energy throwing mental darts at my father; at his insensitivity, at his physicality, his crudeness. The other half, I invested in feeling sorry for myself. Now in the clear glare of sunlight, I needed to decide what to do next. No way was I going back home… not right away.
I bought a breakfast burrito and cup of coffee from the McDonald’s down the street and took them back to the park to escape people. I imagined everyone was staring at the town queer. Didn’t take long to achieve that distinction. Kiss a guy once… well, twice… and that’s all it took. As soon as the bank opened, I went inside and tapped my funds for enough money to take care of me for a week.
Without thought or plan, I got in the Chevy and drove out of Wadlow. Before long, I found myself in Silverdale, the county seat not a dozen miles down the road. I hit their McD for lunch. While I didn’t know very many people in this town, I imagined they were all staring at the county queer. Damn, I’d been promoted in less than a day.
Finishing my burger in their park—it was bigger than ours—I wondered what to do next. Drive on until I was somewhere nobody knew me? Sit and stew? Go back home and do the crawfishing papa would demand before he quit looking at me like I was an alien. Or just sit here and molt.
“Joshua, is that you I see?” The heavy voice startled me into thinking papa had already tracked me down.
I looked up into the florid features of James Rondell. Mr. Rondell owned the grocery store in Silverdale. He knew my dad from business and civic organizations they both belonged to. Friendly competitors was how my mom put it.
I stood and accepted his hand. “Mr. Rondell. Nice to see you.”
“You are not working today?”
“N-no, sir. I’m taking some time off.”
“Well, if you want to make some extra money for school, I can use a hand. I’m short a clerk. The wiener schnitzel went and got himself married.”
My heart took a leap. “Really? Guess I could help out… if it’s needed.”
“A lifesaver, my boy. That’s what you’ll be. For a week, maybe?”
“I… uh, I guess so. Have to find someplace to stay.
“Not a problem. My wife and I have a spare room. Outside entrance and everything. You’ll be welcome.”
Mrs. Rondell was my mom plus ten years and ten pounds. She welcomed me into her home and made me feel comfortable. I’d found a soft landing… at least for the next week or so.
The culture at Rondell’s Foods—the way they did business—fit like a glove. Except for wearing a blue apron instead of a green, everything was almost the same. Mr. Rondell and I went to the store at six each morning after a hearty breakfast to open and get things ready for the day. The butcher and another clerk—a middle-aged lady—completed the staff. At the end of a week, no one said anything about me moving out or not coming to work, so I continued as I was.
At the end of the second week, Mr. Rondell wanted to stop for a cup of coffee before going home. As we settled into a corner booth at the restaurant, I understood he wanted to talk.
“Joshua, you’re a good worker, and I want you to understand you have a job here for as long as you like. But I know you sometimes get lonely for your own home.”
“S-sometimes. But I’m okay. If you still need me, that is.”
“You work at the store. You see my need. But still—”
“It’s not comfortable for me at home right now,” I blurted.
“Yes, I know.”
And I saw that he did. He knew all about it. My cheeks burned.
“Let me tell you a little story,” Mr. Rondell continued. “There was this man who knew how the world should work and insisted his family live by its rules. But he had a son who saw things differently. A son who insisted on being his own man by falling in love with another man. His dad thrashed him good and told him to be normal, a good Christian.”
Mr. Rondell took off his glasses and wiped his eyes. “Then the son left his home and never came back. He and his friend moved out of town. A year later, word came to the family the son had been killed in an automobile accident. That papa never saw someone he loved dearly again.”
“That… that was your son?” I stammered.
He nodded. “My sweet Steven. He was a good boy even though I was too stupid to understand that.” He touched my shoulder. “I don’t want that future for you, Joshua. You are welcome here, but when you are ready to stand up to your father, Hilda and I will understand.”
Two days later, my knees nearly gave way when Toby Wolfson came through the door and walked up to me. “I need two bales of hay,” he announced with a lilt in his voice and merriment dancing in his eyes.”
I had to clasp my thighs to keep from throwing my arms around him. “How… how did you know where I was?”
“I live about halfway between here and Wadlow. Sometimes I shop here, and sometimes there. I heard you were working at Rondells. So here I am.”
“Let’s go get that hay.”
After we loaded the bales, Toby backed me into a corner and took liberties that had me panting so bad I could hardly stand it. Apparently, he couldn’t either because he backed off and asked when I got off work.”
“Not till seven.”
“I’ll meet you outside at seven. Then we can go somewhere where we’ll be alone.”
“Okay, but I have something to do first. Can you hold off an hour or so?”
“Yeah, if I don’t burn up between now and then.”
“You better not. I’ll see you at the Wadlow city park at eight, okay?”
My mom was overjoyed when I walked through the door to our house; papa, more like flustered. But he recovered fast. “So, you just stroll in here after walking out. How you know you’re welcome?”
I walked over to where he sat and took the newspaper out of his hand. “That’s why I’m here. I want to explain something to you.”
“You explain to me?”
“Yes. Apparently, you haven’t learned much from life. In too narrow a rut, I guess.”
“Joshua, don’t speak to your father like that.”
“Sorry, Mom. But this is between him and me. Papa, there’s more to being a man than just loving a woman. I take care of myself, make my own way. I’m responsible and reliable.”
“Let me finish. So in my eyes, that makes me a man. But I’m not you, papa. I’m my own man. And if you can accept that, maybe I’ll come back home. But until you do, I won’t enter this house again.”
I crawled into the Chevy a tormented man. It felt good to stand up to my father and express myself, but I hadn’t been raised to go against his wishes. Had I irreparably separated myself from my family?
Unsettled and uncertain, I was steadied by the sight of Toby waiting for me at the park. Without a word, we piled into his pickup and drove out of town. An hour later, all of my doubts were swept away. I was truly my own man… with a man of my own.
Looks as though Mark brought it home okay. I don’t know about you, but it stirred some shadowy memories in the past part of my brain.
Now my mantra: Keep on reading. Keep on writing. And keep on submitting your work to publishers and agents. You have something to say… so say it.
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